By Caitlin Kittredge
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 Caitlin Kittredge
All rights reserved.
Pete Caldecott sat on a tombstone, watching fog curl soft fingers against the graveyard earth and waiting for Mickey Martin's ghost to appear.
Mickey Martin hadn't always been a ghost, and before a hail of constable's bullets had snuffed out his life in the winter of 1844, he'd managed to slit the throats of thirteen women.
Murderers weren't supposed to be buried on consecrated ground, but with a bribe to the right vicar, Mickey Martin's admirers made sure he got a proper burial. Even razor-wielding serial killers had their fans.
Mickey Martin professed to be a man of God, ridding the earth of wickedness, and in the poverty-stricken world of Victorian London, a bloke who went about slashing prostitutes and charwomen was looked on not as a monster, but as an avenging angel, cleaning the mud-choked streets of the East End of their filth.
Pete wasn't usually the one who sat in chilly graveyards, waiting for the dead. Usually, that was Jack's job. But Jack, the one who could see the dead with his second sight, the one who had all the talent when it came to disposing of the unnatural that crawled under cover of night in London, wanted nothing to do with the Mickey Martin business. Or, if Pete was honest, with much of anything lately.
She could have put her foot down, demanded that Jack be the one to take this on, but that would bring on a row, and she'd had her fill of those for this lifetime and possibly the next. Sitting alone in a graveyard at nearly midnight didn't bother her overmuch. It wasn't like she'd be getting any sleep at home, between Lily's erratic schedule and Jack's ever-present foul mood.
Still, she wished she could chuck it in and go home, sit down in front of the telly with Lily and Jack, and pretend just for the span of a program or two that they were a regular sort of family. The sort where Mum and Dad occasionally got along, and neither of them had any special connection to the ghosts and magic that wound around the city as surely as the river and the rail lines.
Jack had said this job wasn't worth their time when it had come in, but he said that about every routine exorcism. They weren't flashy, but they usually paid, the victims too terrified to even consider stiffing the person who had made the big bad ghost go poof. And something had to put food on Pete and Jack's table, to pay for Lily's nappies and the expenses involved with living in London, which were considerable. If that was boring, shopworn exorcisms, so be it.
It wasn't as if this particular ghost job had come from a disreputable source. PC Brandi Wolcott was a member of Pete's old squad when she'd been on the Met, smart and hardworking, ambitious and driven. And now terrified, after a routine call had turned into a brush with Mickey Martin.
Pete had a reputation with such matters, whether she liked it or not. Everyone at her old squad in Camden knew she'd quit to go chase spooks and vapors. Or at least those were the rumors. The truth was a little more complicated. But trying to explain to coppers like PC Wolcott that if they just cared to look, from the corner of their eye, a part of London would reveal itself — a part made of magic and shadows, harboring creatures like Mickey Martin and far, far worse — would end with leather straps and lithium, and that wouldn't help anyone.
"Caldecott." Pete's Bluetooth headset came to life, and she jumped. She cleared her throat before fishing her mobile from her overcoat. She didn't want PC Wolcott to know she'd been drifting and not holding up her end of their two-person search team.
"Yeah, I'm here."
"I've finished my perimeter sweep. Heading back your way." Wolcott was out here on her own time, which Pete gave her credit for — though not more credit than she gave PC Wolcott for calling her in the first place. Ghost attacks against the living were rare and could usually be written off as muggings or bad trips, but something about this one had shaken Brandi Wolcott badly enough that she quietly went searching for an exorcist, and found Pete. Beyond that, she hadn't said all that much, and Pete got the sense she was having second thoughts about the whole thing. You didn't want to be the only PC who believed in ghosts.
Pete shoved her mobile back into her pocket and let her hands follow. October nights brought on the chill and the threat of winter to come, and the damp crept through her hair and her clothes, all the way to her skin. She could feel the gentle pulse of the Black, the other side that people like Wolcott chose not to see, like the vibration of a subterranean train under her feet. She was mostly used to it by now, but on nights like tonight, when it was silent and the hum of the city seemed miles away, it seeped in and knocked around her skull, almost as palpable as the fog.
Wolcott's blonde head appeared, bobbing between the monuments. The churchyard was only a hundred meters from end to end, but it was crammed full of headstones and obelisks, with far more bodies than there were stones below Pete's boots. London suffered from too many dead and too little space, and before great swaths of green were cordoned off for burying by the later Victorians, the dead resided wherever there was room — in churchyards, under the church floorboards, in shallow pits that fouled the air and drew in the Black like a magnetic field.
"Christ, this weather," Wolcott said. Her bronze skin, painted on rather than earned under the sun, was as brassy as her hair. In her off-hours, Wolcott favored skintight satin pants, loud prints, earrings large enough to use as handcuffs, and makeup by the pound. But she was bright and had nerves of steel, and Pete was glad she'd agreed to come.
"It's going to piss down rain any moment," Pete agreed. She gestured toward a large winged angel, the biggest monument in the churchyard. "Can you take me through it again? What happened the other night?"
"Sure." Wolcott shrugged. "Station got a call from the vicar about half-twelve and I came around. Said there were lights out in the churchyard. Figured it was some hoodies pissing about, thought nothing of it." She walked a few paces, staring up at the angel. Its stone eyes were blacked over with moss, and the ghostly marks of old graffiti wrapped like white vines around its base.
"I got about halfway into the yard when I heard this sound," Wolcott said softly. "This low sound, like a moaning. Still thought it were kids, so I pulled out my light and gave the order to show their smart little faces."
The wind picked up, pushing leaves against Pete's feet, and the fog flowed and rippled across the uneven ground as if it were alive and making a mad dash for the safety of the church. "But it wasn't," Pete encouraged the other woman. Wolcott flinched, as if she expected Pete to accuse her of making it all up, or simply laugh in her face.
"Brandi," Pete said. She laid a hand on Wolcott's nylon-clad arm. "I believe you. The more I know, the easier it'll be for us to make sure this doesn't happen again."
The PC hunched inside her navy blue windcheater, and Pete saw then, up close under the sodium lights, that what she'd taken for reluctance was actually fear. Wolcott's entire body was strung with it, as if she were a puppet on wires. Pete sucked in a deep lungful of damp, cold air. Whatever had happened here, it had been a lot worse than a ghost popping out of a mirror or a poltergeist flinging crockery.
Not for the first time that night, she cursed Jack and his stubborn refusal to do anything that wasn't exactly in line with what he wanted.
Wolcott spoke again in a rush, voice rattling like the dead leaves all around. "I seen this shape hunched on the ground, and he were mumbling, over and over. It were Bible talk, I don't know. I never did pay attention in church."
"'Behold, I am coming soon. I have my reward with me and I shall give to everyone according to what he has done,'" Pete said. That had been Mickey Martin's favorite passage to quote in his letters to the various tabloids and one-sheets of the day.
Wolcott's nose wrinkled. "Yeah, that. Street-corner nutter ramblings, I thought."
"It's Revelation," Pete said. "The handbook of all street-corner nutters."
"You some kind of brain, then?" Wolcott asked, clearly glad to have the subject diverted from what she'd seen.
"No," Pete said. "Just a very poor sort of Catholic."
"Was about to ask," said Wolcott. "Don't see many Catholics mucking about with the dark arts."
"You saw the man and then what?" Pete prompted, deciding that the lecture on black magic versus exorcism could wait for another day.
"I told him the churchyard was closed and he'd have to move along," said Wolcott, "and then he just ... he looked at me, and I can't describe it. Had dead black eyes, bleeding onto his face. Such deep holes. Felt like I was falling, and then the cold was all around, and he ..." Wolcott swallowed, her voice trembling along with the rising energies of the Black.
Pete scratched at the back of her neck. The feelings picking at the part of her mind connected to magic were bloody active, even for a graveyard. Then again, not all graveyards boasted their very own serial killer.
"He came for me," Wolcott said. "Straight through the headstones, like he were made of smoke. And he grabbed for me, his hand went through my stab vest, and it was as if ..." She shuddered. "He knew me. Could see every wicked thing I'd done, and was going to burn me up from the inside."
"I know it must have been terrible for you," Pete said. "If it makes you feel better — six other people have had the same thing happen over the last six months."
"Shit," Wolcott muttered, but her shoulders relaxed a fraction. Pete figured knowing it wasn't just her might help settle Wolcott's nerves — not that it did much for her own tingling hands and jumping heart. The churchyard had been silent for decades until the first terrified woman had called 999 from the pub across the road, and Pete had an idea why Mickey Martin was up and about again — when she and Jack had stopped the primordial demon, Nergal, from ripping his way into the daylight world, it had rippled out and touched everything in the city. Every ghost, every lesser demon, every scrap and snip of magic-having life in London had felt the effects. And now they were awake, and hungry.
At least Pete could put Mickey Martin in his place. The larger aftermath of Nergal and his brethren would just have to sort itself out.
"You're nicer about it than my DCI, but you still probably think I'm crazy," Wolcott mumbled, leaning against the monument. "Everybody else does."
"Crazy's not the word I'd use," Pete said. Wolcott, too, represented a problem — when the Black echoed like a rung bell as Nergal and the other four primordial demons tried to break out of the prison the Princes of Hell had erected for them millennia ago, all of the citizens of both daylight London and the Black beneath with the slightest bit of sensitivity got a jolt like grabbing a high-tension cable.
For psychics like Jack it meant more sleepless nights, more waking visions, and more barrages from the dead and the living alike. For people like Wolcott, who would have never known she possessed the slightest bit of talent under normal circumstances, it led to nights like this.
It wasn't Pete's problem. Her problem was Mickey Martin and his recently reacquired hobby of murdering those he considered wicked.
"You don't seem so looney," Wolcott observed. "From what they say around the station, I was expecting Stevie Nicks."
"I thought I'd leave my scarves and tarot at home, yeah," Pete agreed. She ignored the implication that apparently the longer she was gone from the Met, the more of a moony-eyed hippie type she became in common legend.
"Never liked stakeouts," Wolcott said. "Bloody boredom sets in quick, don't it?" She scraped a fingernail against the moss on the monument. "How'd you cope, when you was a DI?"
Pete's head started to throb, though she didn't know if it was from a lack of coffee, the cold, or Wolcott's persistent questions. She shouldn't be mad at the PC — Wolcott was just trying to distract herself from her nerves.
She did the same, counting headstones, listening to the faint thump of music from the far-off pub, feeling the droplets of fog collect on her face and hair. The whispers of the graveyard had stilled, and even the mist held its place, covering the ground, the headstones, and the dead beneath. For a moment, it was as if the entire city of London held its breath — no music, no cars, no trains, not even the heartbeat of the rushing Thames.
Then the pain in Pete's head spiked, and she knew the silence had only been a lull, not a finale.
From the stone behind Wolcott, the shadows began to seep and merge, moving of their own accord, against the light that gleamed from the vestry windows and the streetlamps beyond the confines of the churchyard. The monument gave birth to a dripping black shape that wavered from cohesive to vapor and back again, sliding through the pocked limestone like oil through water.
"Wolcott!" Pete shouted, but it was too late. The thing had Brandi by the throat and engulfed her, pouring into her eyes and nostrils and down her open gullet, choking her scream before it had a chance to be born.
"Shit," Pete said, only able to watch as the ghost of Mickey Martin poured itself like black, oily water into a brand-new body. She'd only met a few ghosts that could do that, and none of them had anyone's best interest in mind. Exorcisms were hard enough when you were only dealing with a vapor.
And yet, Pete thought as Brandi's eyes clouded over with silver and she let out a choked moan, her limbs jerking and spasming as the ghost took control, it didn't feel like a ghost. Pete wasn't a psychic — that was Jack's game — but ghosts felt like electricity, like lightning striking too close for comfort, like every ion in the room was awake and slamming against her skin. This was cold, and black, and bottomless, giving no sense that the thing inside Brandi Wolcott had ever been alive, never mind human.
The one thought pounding through her head over and over was that Jack would never have let this happen. He'd have known something was off, and been ready for this thing that was not a ghost.
Pete sidestepped as Brandi came for her, acrylic fingernails catching and ripping at the front of Pete's overcoat. Jack would never have let this happen, but he wasn't here, so she was just going to have to make do with her own wits. They'd served her well enough for thirty-one odd years; they'd do for a few more minutes.
Brandi came for her again. She was as fast and mean as a PCP addict, an inhuman sight with black energy spilling out of her eyes and her mouth, her face twisted in a grimace of perpetual agony.
Pete amended that. If she managed to survive the next few minutes, then she could figure out how to end this.
A headstone caught Pete at the knees and she fell, feeling her left arm twist under her, the ugly crunch of bone on stone resonating over Brandi's ragged breathing and Pete's own heartbeat.
"Aren't you pretty," Brandi growled in the guttural tones of East London. The voice of Mickey Martin, made rough and hot with hatred. "Pretty enough to turn heads." Brandi crouched over Pete, inhaling deeply at the nexus of Pete's neck and shoulder. "I can smell it on you," Brandi intoned. "Wickedness. Sin. The filth of the streets dripping off your skin." She grinned, black spilling over her tongue and down across Pete's cheek. "Going to enjoy slicing you open and watching it all bleed out."
Pete was glad Mickey Martin was a talker. It gave her time to plunge her hand into her opposite coat pocket and bring out her metal police baton. She tried to snap it open, but the bolt of lightning up her left arm told her that the plan was dead before it began. Her arm was sprained, at best. Shattered, at worst. Later. She could fix her arm later, when she was alive and away from here. Otherwise, they could arrange it in her casket so nobody would know. Either way, she had a more pressing problem.
Instead, she wrapped her good hand around Brandi Wolcott's neck and squeezed. Ghosts riding bodies needed life, breath. They weren't zombies, hunks of corpse revived by a necromancer. So Pete squeezed, with every ounce of strength left in her.
She expected that Mickey Martin would vacate Wolcott's skin, and then she'd have a fighting chance to send him back to the Bleak Gates and the land of the dead beyond. She never expected the smoke pouring from Wolcott to wrap itself around her wrist and begin the slow crawl up her own arm.
Not again, Pete's mind screamed. Not this. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Soul Trade by Caitlin Kittredge. Copyright © 2012 Caitlin Kittredge. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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